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UK Embassy Lights a Virtual Candle on Weibo on June 4th, Gesture Instantly Backfires

A virtual candle posted on the UK embassy account was meant to commemorate June 4, but Weibo users turned it into something else.

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The virtual candle was meant for the annual – heavily censored – commemoration of the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, but Chinese netizens responded with ‘RIP the Queen’.

On June 3rd, What’s on Weibo reported that various Weibo emoji disappeared this week in light of the June 4 anniversary and heightened censorship.

One of the Weibo emoji to have been removed from the platform’s collection of frequently used emoticons is the candle [蜡烛], which is often used to commemorate, mourn, or pay respects to people and incidents on social media.

On Friday, June 4th, one of the times in the year when censorship on Chinese social media intensifies – June 4 marks the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student protests in 1989 – the official Weibo account of the UK Embassy in China (@英国驻华使馆) published a noteworthy image, namely that of a burning candle.

The Weibo account of the UK Embassy in Beijing has over 1.8 million followers. On Twitter, the ‘UK in China’ account posted the same image.

In order to ‘justify’ the image of the candle posted by UK officials, the hashtag “The Queen of the United Kingdom Passed Away” started making its rounds on Chinese social media. By Friday night, local time, the hashtag page was viewed over 16 million times and the comments started to get wilder (#英国女王因病去世#).

Some people suggested the candle was lit because the Queen had passed away due to illness, others said the death was due to childbirth complications, and then some wrote it was after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Meanwhile, the original post by the Embassy has disappeared from Weibo at the time of writing. It is unclear if the post was removed by online censors, or if the UK Embassy deleted its own post soon after it backfired.

On Twitter, Christina Scott, Minister and Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Beijing, claimed that the image of the candle was “censored within 20 minutes.”

UK-China relations have seen major shifts in recent times, especially since the UK banned Huawei from British 5G networks and also stepped up its criticism of China’s treatment of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Beijing’s national security law covering Hong Kong – which are seen as domestic matters in China.

In light of the various events that have hurt the ties between the UK and China, the British embassy’s virtual candle on June 4th was not necessarily perceived as a ‘friendly gesture’ by many.

Many Chinese netizens found the online stream of wild fabrications funny, although others were left confused and wanted to know if something had really happened to the Queen.

Hu Xijin (胡锡进), Chinese journalist and Global Times editor-in-chief, also responded to the ‘RIP the Queen’ trend on his Weibo account. In his post, Hu suggested that the very fact that Chinese netizens joked about Queen Elizabeth is the price the UK Embassy needs to pay for its ‘provocative’ post. He also warned the American and British embassies that they should learn from this incident to “thoroughly understand the actual feelings of the majority of Chinese people, and [to understand] how their perceptions have become so out of touch with China’s reality.”

Hu’s post received hundreds of replies, with some praising how Weibo users have found a way to “cure ills with poison” (以毒攻毒, ‘fight fire with fire’).

In the midst of all controversy, the ‘T-word,’ Tiananmen, was completely left out of the online discussions.

By Manya Koetse & Miranda Barnes

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    Godfree Roberts

    June 7, 2021 at 2:03 am

    June 4 marks the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student protests in 1989?

    No, it marks Western governments’ failure to provoke a violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student protests in 1989.

    Just as they did after similarly failing in Hong Kong recently, they invented a ‘violent crackdown on pro-democracy’ dissidents and went home, declaring victory.

    There was no bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests.

    The kids were home, safe in bed, by 7:30 am.

    Hardly surprising, since they were the cream of China’s young intelligentsia and had enjoyed front-page support from the People’s Daily throughout the six-week demonstration.

    The Tiananmen demonstrations were the biggest media event of the decade and every foreign newspaper, radio and TV station on earth had reporters there, day and night. None saw or heard violence in the square. Because there was none.

    There was, however, a riot in Chang’An Road, where thugs murdered a dozen unarmed cops and soldiers.

    Two weeks later, on July 19, Beijing Party Secretary Li Ximing, delivered the results of the enquiry, “More than 7,000 were wounded or injured and two hundred forty-one killed, including thirty-six students, ten soldiers and thirteen People’s Armed Police during a riot in Chang’An Road.”

    The leader of that riot, Wang Yam, was exfiltrated through Hong Kong, given British citizenship, and settled in London.

    In 2006, for the first time in modern British history Wang was tried for murder in camera; the Crown Prosecutor banned all media coverage and even speculation about the case.

    Wang was found guilty of bludgeoning an elderly man to death in order to rob him. MI6, Britain’s intelligence agency, later admitted he was their agent.

    And that’s the real story of Tiananmen.

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China History

Mourning Jiang Zemin, Weibo Turns Black and White

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang Zemin became a recurring part of Chinese memes.

Manya Koetse

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Following the announcement that Jiang Zemin (江泽民), the former president of the PRC, has passed away, various Chinese online platforms have turned into ‘grey’ mode as a sign of mourning. Jiang Zemin died due to leukemia and organ failure. He was 96 years old.

Besides Weibo, the home page of major Chinese websites such as Baidu, Sogou, Taobao, Alipay, Xinhua, People’s Daily, The Paper, and many others all turned into black-and-white mourning mode on Wednesday.

Bilibili turns into grey mode on November 30.

Search engine Sogou also in black and white mode.

On Weibo, one post about Jiang Zemin’s passing received a staggering one million reposts and over two million ‘likes.’ The hashtag “Comrade Jiang Zemin Passed Away at the Age of 96 in Shanghai” (#江泽民同志在上海逝世享年96岁#) had received over 2,5 billion clicks by Wednesday night.

Jiang Zemin was appointed as President of the People’s Republic of China in 1993. In the years before, the former Shanghai Party chief already held official positions as the chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commission and general secretary of the Party. In 2003, Jiang Zemin retired and was replaced by Hu Jintao (Sullivan 2012).

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang became a recurring part of Chinese memes. Jiang had created a wide group of online fans, who are commonly referred to as ‘toad worshippers’ as the online phenomenon of ‘worshipping’ Jiang Zemin is called mo ha (膜蛤), ‘toad worship’ (Fang 2020, 38). The entire phenomenon has become its own subculture that is called ‘mo ha culture’ (móhá wénhuà, 膜蛤文化).

What started as a joke – nicknaming Jiang a ‘toad’ due to his big glasses, signature pants, and wide smile, – became an actual online movement of people who were appreciative of Jiang Zemin.

They loved him, not only because the former leader spoke many languages and other talents, and because of his unique appearance, but mainly because he was not scared to show his emotions, was very expressive, and good at telling stories.

One famous example of this, is when Jiang Zemin got upset with a Hong Kong journalist in 2000 and told them off using three languages (link to video, also here). The much-repeated quote “too young, too simple, sometimes naive” comes from this noteworthy moment as Jiang told journalists that they still had a lot to learn, whereas he had gone through “hundred of battles,” saying “I’ve seen it all.” This also led to Jiang later being called ‘the Elder’ (长者) by netizens.

Another popular Jiang Zemin video is when he met with American journalist Mike Wallace in August of 2000 in Beidaihe. During the interview, the two discussed sensitive topics including the Falun Gong and Tiananmen protests. The interview reportedly was one of the longest ever between an American journalist and a Chinese head of state (watch here).

A study by Kecheng Fang (2020) about ‘China’s toad worship culture’ suggests that for many online fans of Jiang, the cult around him is apolitical, playful, and part of a shared digital cultural tradition.

For some, however, it does hold some political meaning to ‘worship’ Jiang, who only became a popular online meme around 2014, after Xi Jinping took power as a conservative strongman who is not as emotionally expressive. Fang describes how one meme creator said: “We couldn’t express our criticism through normal channels, so we turned to other indrect ways, including lauding Jiang’s personality and characteristics in various ways” (2020, 45).

Although Jiang became popular among younger Chinese on online platforms over the past decade, he was not necessarily that popular at the time of his leadership, and opinions vary on the legacy he leaves behind. Jiang continuously pushed for reform and opening-up after Deng Xiaoping’s rule.

As summarized by Foreign Policy, Jiang oversaw two crucial transitions that shaped and improved the lives of the people of China: “First, he peacefully guided his country out of the shadow of China’s founding revolutionaries, who had spent decades purging one another and at times caused great pain and sorrow for everyone else. Second, although hesitant at first, Jiang came to embrace the market economy.”

As various places across China have seen unrest and protests over the past few days, the announcement of Jiang’s death comes at a sensitive time.

Many on Chinese social media are burning virtual candles in memory of Jiang Zemin today. “I will fondly recall your style and manners,” some say.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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References:

Fang, Kecheng. 2020. “Turning a communist party leader into an internet meme: the political and apolitical aspects of China’s toad worship culture.” Information, Communication & Society, 23 (1): 38-58.

Sullivan, Lawrence R. 2012. Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Communist Party. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. See page: 3-43, 208.

 

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China and Covid19

Chinese Students Are Making Their Voices Heard, from Nanjing to Xi’an

“Tonight is the night when students are flooding the internet,” some on Weibo said during a dark night filled with students’ bright lights.

Manya Koetse

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The Communication University of China in Nanjing (南京传媒学院, abbr. CUCN) is trending on Weibo on Saturday night, with one hashtag receiving over 180 million views on Weibo before 23:00 local time.

Students at the university gathered on Saturday evening, chanting slogans such as “long live the people” and turning on the lights on their phone as a tribute to victims of the fire in Urumqi.

Over the past few days, there has been ongoing unrest in various parts of China. The fire that occurred in Urumqi on November 24 triggered waves of anger online (read here), and at the same time there have also been other incidents that further intensified the anger, which some also took to the street.

Another incident that attracted a lot of online attention this week happened in the Shunde District of Foshan, Guangdong, on November 24. Online, the incident was referred to as a “stampede,” but the hashtag “Foshan Stampede” (#佛山踩踏#) was soon taken offline. According to China Daily, the incident happened when a crowd of people gathered at a Covid testing place in the Xincheng community of Leliu subdistrict at about 8:30 am. The situation became chaotic when people fell down due to the slippery ground, but nobody reportedly was injured.

Nevertheless, the incident surely did not help to calm the growing tensions, especially this week when we also saw protests and unrest at Foxconn in Zhengzhou and the third consecutive daily record for new Covid cases in mainland China following by local (semi-) lockdowns across the country.

Meanwhile, on Saturday night, Weibo flooded with comments in support of the students who stood up to make their voices be heard.

“I’m not there with you, but I’m there with you,” one commenter wrote, with others posting: “Brave young people. This society is no longer giving them a way to live. History is repeating itself. If we don’t do this now, it’s our children who will have to struggle.”

“CUCN come on!” some cheered, while others wrote: “We’re proud of you.”

Some screenshots claiming to come from people at the scene said that it was the students’ intention to show solidarity with the people who passed away in the Urumqi fire and those in Xinjiang who were treated unfairly in light of the ongoing lockdowns the region saw since August of this year.

An anonymous poster warned people not to believe rumors regarding the protest being a conflict between the school leadership and the students: “The school is protecting its students, although some on the internet would like you to believe otherwise.”

Lights at the CUCN scene were allegedly turned off to prevent students from being identifiable on videos and photos.

As soon as the live commenting section on the CUCN protests was shut down by Weibo, another topic came up before midnight.

Students at the Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts (西安美术学院) were also taking their anger to the campus streets, where they allegedly demanded for freedom amid Covid lockdowns.

One commenter wrote: “Tonight is the night when students are flooding the internet, their fire [torch] will burn forever, what a magnificent night!”

“The students are very brave, they are the first to stand up. I hope the workers will stand up, and finally, all people will stand up.”

Many people on Chinese social media posted references to La Jeunesse (New Youth), a Chinese literary magazine that was founded in 1915 by Chen Duxiu and also influenced China’s May Fourth Movement (sometimes referred to as the Chinese Enlightenment), which was all about the Chinese youth being the catalyst for transformation.

“You are the heroes of the awakening,’ others wrote.

Read more about the “11.24” unrest in China here.

For more articles on the Covid situation in China, check here. If you appreciate what we do, please support us by subscribing for just a small annual fee.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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